The Cost Of Streaming Attention: What Is The Value Of Free 'Channels'?

FAST streaming platforms continue to embolden the assigned industry moniker abbreviation: It's a fast-growing business.

Many consumers can sit up and take notice of the offering of "free live TV channels." The word "free" that is associated with this platform certainly has a lot to do with it. 

But it may be a simple diversionary marketing ploy. For example, what exactly is being offered for free? 

Drilling down, free ad-supported platforms are pretty much what they say they are -- they offer a lot of free content. 

But many consumers can sit up and take notice of the offering of "free live TV channels."

Old-school consumer behavior means buying a traditional cable TV network bundle and being promised around 100 or 200 channels for $80 to $100 a month.  Long ago that may have sounded like a good deal. 



Now, in the streaming world, FAST channels (Free Advertising Supported Television) have what seems like a better consumer financial equation -- thousands of free channels. For example, under the “Roku Channel” site there are 300 free channels, while with  Tubi TV there are 250 freebies and Pluto TV has more than 250 free channels.

According to Nielsen Gracenote Video Data, there are more than 1,050 of these FAST Channels overall now available in the U.S. and over 1,400 individual FAST channels in its database.

Amazon Freevee recently added 12 free channels from NBCU, while Warner Bros. Discovery and MGM recently inked a deal sending 34 channels to Freevee. 

How can any consumer say no to free TV -- even if they are also paying for around $10 to $15 a month each for Netflix, Disney+, Max, and/or say AMC+?

Looking closely, one needs to define exactly what a “channel” is. 

In the free streaming world, “channels” can be more likely  focused around “shows” -- or micro-niche segments of shows. In the WBD deal, for example, there are channels named “Cake Boss” and “Say Yes To The Dress”-- names of shows on cable TV network Food Network and TLC, respectively.

Still free? Maybe we really need a better word.

The cost of home broadband can range from $30 to $50 or more. And consumers still have to pay up -- in terms of time -- when it comes to all that advertising and marketing interruption. 

Critics may argue that traditional cable TV networks at times may look like what these streamers have become.

After all, how does this differ from the 12 to 15 hours of nonstop, back-to-back rerun airings of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” on USA Network on weekdays. What about the long non-stop prime-time scheduling of the video clips show “Ridiculousness” on MTV?

Among the other factors to consider, many of these free streaming services offer tons of older library TV and movie products -- or what might be defined as somewhat lower value to many consumers.

Still, there may be some value here for hard-pressed TV advertisers looking for fading reach.

Is everything new -- or just old again in this new TV/streaming world? Nothing in this business ever really goes away.


3 comments about "The Cost Of Streaming Attention: What Is The Value Of Free 'Channels'?".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 8, 2023 at 1:56 p.m.

    As you say, Wayne, nothing is really free. Or what seems to be free often has little value. Yep,  the old standby, "You get what you pay for" , is often true. 

  2. brian ring from ring digital llc, September 8, 2023 at 6:39 p.m.

    So unfair Ed. Have you tuned to any of these channels of late? The quality of content improves on daily basis. We are 2 years into the 2nd era of streaming and the 4th era of TV writ large - and new linear - streaming linear - it is here to stay. 

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 9, 2023 at 3:54 p.m.

    Brian, the "free" TV advertising model has long been abandoned by "linear TV"---first the cable channels and later, the broadcst TV networks as the costs of "quality" content---by which many  mean original dramas, sitcoms and movies---is so great and the returns in terms of audience delivery so little by comparison-that you can't operate profitably by going the "quality" route. A little---maybe a new original drama with only 9  episodes ordered which will then be played 20 times over to rcoup its costs and later syndicated to some other FAST or AVOD or cable channel. But for the most part, to survive---and many wont---the FASTs will have to rely on basic staples---some already produced---like national or local news---or reruns of almost everything that was ever produced. There simply isn't enough viewing time---about 35-40 minutes per day per adult for FASTs---to suppport all of the contenders and not enough ad dollars either. The viewing figures may rise to one hour per day and eventually---if enough FASTs survive---- even more---but this is a pittance compared to the amount of viewing that broadcast TV and cable was competing for ten years ago---about five hours per day per adult.

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